SEM, PPC and SEO…Do you know the difference?

If you said “no” then you are in good company! Most people say that they need to make their website SEO friendly but they don’t realize that SEO is actually just one part of a much larger concept called SEM, or Search Engine Marketing.

SEM is a type of internet marketing that uses optimization and advertising to promote and increase the visibility of a website in search engine results pages (SERPs). SEM uses both pay per click (PPC) ads and search engine optimization (SEO) which writes, adjusts and monitors website content to rank higher on SERPs. [ref. wiki]

There are 2 distinct sections on the Google, Yahoo and Bing SERPs to market your website:

  1. The paid section (PPC):  includes the first 3 listings at the top of the page and 8 listings down the right hand side, all highlighted by a light yellow background.
  2. The organic section (SEO): includes all the listings below the paid ads, also referred to as the “free” section (although that isn’t 100% true).

the difference between SEO PPC and SEM by Beth Wade

So, where do you want your website to show up?

Many studies have been conducted to try and prove that online users click one section more than another, but none of the results are consistent. One might say 85% organic/15% paid, another found 60% paid/40% organic, others think it’s a 50/50 split. Bottom line? If your website isn’t showing up in both sections then you will never capture 100% of your potential market!

How do you get there?  How quickly will you show up?

Most people want to show up in the organic section (SEO) first. But SEO efforts can take months before you see any improvement on your page rank. To give you a frame of reference, choose a desired keyword search, like “charlotte newborn photographer”. Look at the number of results Google found for that keyword phrase:

seo results

About 885,000. At an average of 10 organic listings per page, let’s see… that is 88,500 pages. Do you think it is going to be easy to get to page 1? Definitely not!

SEM Section 1- PPC: getting to page 1, fast traffic, with a set budget.

PPC, or pay per click, is one part of SEM. PPC promotes your website for specific keyword searches in the paid section. PPC campaigns are set up through Google Adwords and can get your website to show up on page 1 of your desired keyword search immediately. You can start a PPC campaign and begin seeing new traffic to your site on the same day. Each time a user clicks on your ad you pay the cost of that keyword.

A PPC advertiser must:

  • set a max cost per click (CPC) for each keyword: Typical keywords for photographers run anywhere between $1.50 and $5.00 per click, sometimes higher in competitive markets.
  • set a daily budget for all ads: plan on spending between $5.00 and $20.00 per day, depending on how much traffic you want to generate. Higher daily budget = more clicks per day!
  • determine a daily budget by calculating your return on investment (ROI): if I budget $500/mo and my average client spends $1000 then I only need 1 new client booking per month to get a full return on my investment (not to mention any future spend you get from them)!

With PPC, you choose the content for each ad. This includes a Title, Description and Landing page URL:

title description landing page url

Google has a great online resource for helping you write content for a text ad and tips for creating a successful ad. The best ads will contain the same keywords related to your search terms and have a call to action (“Now Booking 2014 Seniors!”) or unique descriptive phrase to set your business apart from the competition.

To help increase your relevancy, multiple ad groups should be set up for each category of your business (newborn, family, weddings, seniors, etc). Within each ad group you need to choose a set of keywords to bid on which are directly related to the category.

ad groups

If someone is searching “newborn photographer”, an ad for “Newborn-Baby Photographer” is more relevant to the search terms than an ad for “Family Photography”. As a result, the searcher is more likely to click on the ad for “Newborn-Baby Photographer” – this action is called a click-through rate (CTR). CTR is the number of clicks on your ad divided by the number of impressions (number of times your ad was displayed for a keyword search). Your CTR should be at least 2%. If it is lower than 2% then users aren’t clicking on your ad often, usually because they don’t feel the content in your ad best relates to their search.  To fix a low CTR you need to rewrite your ads to match that specific keyword search!

seo cpc

Remember, PPC ads show in the top 3 spots and 8 spots down the right hand side. To get the highest position and lowest cost per click on your keywords you will need to have a high quality score. This can be achieved by making sure your ads, keywords, and landing page for each ad group are very relevant to what a customer is searching for and also relevant to each other.

Wait…what’s a landing page?

Within your ad groups, quality score will be improved by using a separate landing page (LP) for each category of your business (newborn, family, weddings, seniors, etc). Do not link a PPC ad to your home page. If you have a flash website (with a single URL), consider switching to HTML or linking to your blog instead. You want to send the potential client directly to a landing page with the exact content they searched for – users are more likely to stay on your website if they can find the information quickly!

landing pages

PPC is the fastest way to generate traffic and new client inquiries to your website. Also, most people don’t realize that the traffic a PPC campaign generates will help boost your SEO efforts significantly!

SEM Section 2- SEO: optimization of content, relevancy and traffic.

What is the magic SEO formula to show up in the organic section of Google?

Well, there really isn’t one. Google ranks pages based on HUNDREDS of different factors, and likes to change them often. If we narrow down a few of the HOT factors, the top ranking websites in the organic section are those that:

  • are most content rich: Content is king! Search engines want to deliver the best matches for a given search term or phrase.
  • are most keyword relevant: Websites that have posts containing the most relevant keywords related to a topic will be ranked first.
  • have the most up-to-date content: A site that has been recently updated is likely more accurate than one that has been stagnant for months, or years!
  • have the most traffic from reputable sources: High traffic is usually sign that users are going to that website and getting reliable information on the topic they were looking for.

These factors help explain why it is important to have a well written blog and update it at least once a month. Having your website link from other reputable, high ranking sites is extremely beneficial and generates quality traffic. A PPC campaign and social media shares are also safe ways to increase traffic to your website.

So, SEO sounds free, right? It’s only free if you have the knowledge and, more importantly, the time!  Each SEO advertiser must:

  • either hire a search engine optimizer or invest time in continuing education, forums and classes to learn effective SEO practices.
  • research and add memberships, links or online advertising on reputable sites: membership, ads and link placement on other reputable websites usually comes at a monthly/annual cost.

Unlike Adwords, SEO is a more constant effort of reviewing and maintaining website content, creating new content, building links and doing keyword research. Depending on your time commitment, willingness to learn, and complexity of your website(s), you may decide you need an expert to handle things for you. If you hire a SEO company make sure to check their credentials and reputation. The fastest way to get your website banned from Google is to hire a company that uses irresponsible (aka ”black hat”) SEO practices!

Again, showing up in the thousands of pages of organic results will take months of dedicated SEO. But to start, the single most important thing you can do is set up your Site Title and Description. This won’t send you to page 1 (or in most cases even page 10), but it will help search engines find your site more easily, and eventually give your website and blog a little traffic boost.

seo tutorial

The Site Title and Description are the 2 main pieces of information displayed with the URL on a SERP. Search engines weigh them both heavily. The Title should include your most relevant keywords, i.e. the ones you want to show up for in a search AND those that are most relevant to your website. If you shoot 10% maternity, 60% newborns and 30% family then by default the majority of your content is about newborns and family. Target those keywords first.  Since best practices for the Title is less than 70 characters it is best to use the strongest terms you want to be found for!

If you have space in the Title, add your geographic location. Most custom URLs already contain your business name (ex., so in this case adding your name in the Title is not the most effective use of characters. If someone searches your name there is already a good chance your website will show up with the help of your custom URL.

seo name URL

For your Description, repeat and incorporate the same relevant keywords from your Site Title into the first sentence. It should be a complete, keyword-laden and concise sentence about your specialty. Using keywords in the Title and Description allows search engines to “bold” (or highlight) those terms in the search results when a user has performed a query with those terms. This helps increase visibility and a higher click-through rate.

seo-title description

To create your Site Title and Description find the “SEO” or “General Settings” on your website and blog.

It should look something like this:

seo setup

Lastly, the keywords you use in your Site Title and Description should correspond in the title and content of every blog post. My typical blog post starts with the age/gender/type of photo session then my location and expertise. Ex. “happy 12 day old baby girl – charlotte newborn photographer”.

seo blog content

For better SEO you should also change the Image Title and Alternative Text (ALT) tags of each photo you upload to contain your top keywords specifically related to that post. I usually add my blog post title as the Title/ALT tag for the photos within that post.

seo alt tag

Also, make sure to add keyword relevant tags and categories specific to each individual post. These are both very important and create URLs that get indexed by search engines (ex. or Categories should be broad, tags more descriptive. Related terms that could be grouped per blog post might be “newborn/baby/family” or “engagement/wedding/boudoir”. But if you do both family and wedding photography, don’t use family tags and categories in wedding posts, or vice versa. Mismatched tags and categories hurt your overall relevancy. Someone looking for family photography doesn’t want to be directed to your blog posts on wedding photography!

categories and tags

Content that is well written, highly relevant to your specialty and up-to-date will make your website more appealing to readers, and in turn help enhance SEO!